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The University of Wyoming rodeo team may not have a lot of flashy performers this season, but Coach George Howard is banking on overall depth to get them back on top.
The Cowboys and Cowgirls open the fall portion of their season this weekend at the Chadron State College rodeo in Crawford, Neb., in an early start for the Central Rocky Mountain Region (CRMR) schools.
The UW men did not qualify as a team for the year-ending College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR), although six men qualified as individual participants. The women scored just a handful of points. Howard hopes for a better season.
"It was a stressful year," Howard admitted. The women didn't qualify as a team for the CNFR until the final regular season rodeo, but had a disappointing CNFR showing. Even though five Cowboys made the short go at the CNFR in Casper, it was not enough to place among the nation's top 10 schools.
Howard hopes the overall team depth is enough to overtake third-year school Gillette College as kings and queens of the CNFR. The Pronghorns dominated both divisions a year ago, but lost many of their starters. The UW women finished as the runners-up in the CRMR, while Central Wyoming College (CWC) placed second in the men's competition.
The Cowboys will rely on a veteran team that once again is heavy on ropers. Leading the pack are Fremont County cousins Chance and Dahl Nicholls. Both are range management majors, with Chance a senior and Dahl a junior. The team ropers finished among the nation's top 10 a year ago at the CNFR.
Also back is calf and team roper Cameron Weddle, a mechanical engineering junior from Milaca, Minn., who also is a steer wrestler, and team roper Kade Merritt, a marketing sophomore from Eaton, Colo. Howard has high hopes for newcomer Clayton Van Aken, a pre-veterinary freshman from Descanso, Calif., who will compete in both roping events.
The only non-timed performer in the lineup this weekend is veteran saddle bronc rider Merritt Smith, an animal science senior from Gillette. He has made the CNFR short go the past two seasons.
Leading the women's team are a pair of CNFR qualifiers: Dana Weiser and Josie Davison. Weiser, a computer science senior from Wheatland, is the most skilled Cowgirl in the lineup and will compete in all three events, plus team roping. Davison, an undeclared senior from Miles City, Mont., will run barrels.
The other two UW women who will compete in the opening rodeo are underclassmen. Kaycee Nelson, a kinesiology and health sophomore from Buffalo, S.D., will compete in goat tying and breakaway and team roping. She is the younger sister of two-time national goat tying champion Kayla Nelson.
Newcomer Devin Nicholls, undeclared freshman from Riverton, will be in breakaway roping and goat tying. She is the younger sister of Dahl Nicholls.
"We have a lot of returning kids and I'm not too worried about our teams," Howard says. "We have a lot of good kids and we have several more waiting in the wings that might be surprising."Besides the Chadron State College rodeo, four more fall events are scheduled at CWC, Sheridan College, Lamar Community College and Laramie County Community College.